Beverly and Harriet had been permitted to "run away" in 1822, and the fact was
noted in Jefferson's Farm Book. Madison Hemings, in his memoir, noted with
some bitterness how his siblings had passed into the white world. "Harriet
married a white man in good standing in Washington City whose name I could
give, but will not, for prudential reasons. She raised a family of children,
and so far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African
blood in the community where she lived or lives. I have not heard from her for
ten years, and do not know whether she is dead or alive. She thought it to her
interest, on going to Washington, to assume the role of a white woman, and by
her dress and conduct as such I am not aware that her identity as Harriet
Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered."
He also mentioned his brother Beverly. "He went to Washington as a white man.
He married a white woman in Maryland, and their only child, a daughter, was not
known by the white folks to have any colored blood coursing in her veins.
Beverely's wife's family were people in good circumstances."
Beverly and Harriet were allowed to run away from Monticello when they were 21.
Edmond Baker, Jefferson's overseer, later claimed that he put Harriet on a
coach with $50, and sent her off to Philadelphia. "He freed one girl some
years before he died, and there was a great deal of talk about it. She was
nearly as white as anybody, and very beautiful. People said he freed her
because she was his daughter..." Historian Annette Gordon-Reed suggests
that Harriet actually went on to Washington, where her brother Beverly was
living. Concrete details of Beverly and Harriet's lives are lost. Historian
Fawn Brodie writes that they "disappeared into the 'historical silence' that
was engulfing hundreds and thousands of other slave children fathered by white
Eston's life "is a fascinating example of the capriciousness of black-white
identification in American society." writes Fawn Brodie. The 1830 U.S. Census
in Virginia listed him as a white man; the census of 1850 in Ohio listed him as
a mulatto; in Wisconsin he was accepted again as white. His family, having
moved to Wisconsin, passed as white, and his children would live out the rest
of their lives as white.
Eston Hemings, Madison's youngest brother, was born in 1808 and died in 1856.
He was raised at Monticello and was trained as a carpenter. He was freed when
he became 21, in accordance with the terms of Thomas Jefferson's will. After
being freed, Eston lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, sharing a house with
Madison, his brother, and Sally Hemings, his mother. When Eston registered as a
free person of color in Charlottesville in 1832, he was described as a "bright
Mulatto, six feet, one inch tall." [quoted in Monticello to Main
Street, by Cinder Stanton; original in the Albemarle County Minute Book,
1832-1843, pg.12.] That same year, on June 14, 1832, he married Julia Ann
Issacs. Julia Ann was a mulatto who was the issue of a relationship between a
free mulatto named Nancy West and a Jewish merchant of Charlottesville, named
After Sally Hemings died in 1835, Eston and Julia Ann moved to Chillicothe, in
Ross County Ohio. (His brother Madison had moved to Ross County the year
before.) They were considered part of the black community. In the 1850
census, Eston was listed as "mulatto" and described as a professional musician
worth two thousand dollars. He played the fiddle and worked as a carpenter and
a musician. Eston and his family, which included three children, stayed in
Ohio for over a decade. In 1850, he moved his family to Wisconsin and there
he changed his name to E.H. Jefferson and passed into the white community.
"What provoked Eston to leave Ohio at age 44, change his name, and pass for
white?" writes Fawn Brodie. "We know that Chilicothe was a favorite station on
the underground railway for slaves seeking freedom. It was also a favorite
area for slave owners seeking runaways and for kidnappers who frequently
spirited free-born blacks as well as slaves back into slave territory. In 1851
the new federal fugitive slave law resulting from the Compromise of 1850, with
appalling repressive provision, promised to make life for any ex-slave in
southern Ohio even more perilous. It is possible that this served to trigger
Eston's decision to move..."
Eston is listed in the 1855 Madison, Wisconsin, Directory and Business
Advertiser as a cabinet maker. Eston died (perhaps of smallpox) on Jan 3, 1856.
He is buried in grave number 3, lot 18, section 3, of the Forest Hills Cemetery
in Madison, Wisconsin. In the 1860 census, his wife and daughter are listed
again as white. "Important for the security of the new family, they dropped
the name Hemings," writes Fawn Brodie. "A letter from Julia Anne to her eldest
son indicates her husband (Eston) had been known simply as EH Jefferson.... To
her eldest son, then a wealthy citizen of Memphis, she wrote: "Would like a
good gold ring given to each of my seven grandsons, if you can do it.... Lay me
beside your father without pomp or show... Let the stone be plain.. Wife of
E.H. Jefferson, born Nov 21, 1814, and died... "
The Daily Scioto Gazette, 1 Aug 1902, published this reminiscence of
Eston. "Eston Hemings was of a light bronze color, a little over six feet
tall, well proportioned, very erect and dignified; his nearly straight hair
showed a tint of auburn, and his face, indistinct suggestions of freckles. ...
It was rumored that he was a natural son of President Thomas Jefferson, a good
many people accepted the story as truth, from the intrinsic evidence of his
striking resemblance to Jefferson." [quoted in Monticello to Main
Street, by Cinder Stanton]. Original in the Collection of Beverly Gary.